An international team of scientists sampled wastewater from a state-of-the-art recycling plant at an undisclosed location in the UK. They found that the microplastics released in the water amounted to 13% of the plastic processed.
“I was incredibly shocked,” said Erina Brown, the lead researcher of the study, conducted at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. “It’s scary because recycling has been designed in order to reduce the problem and to protect the environment. This is a huge problem we’re creating.”
The researchers tested the water before and after the plant installed a water filtration system and found the filter reduced the concentration of microplastics from 13% of the plastic processed to 6%.
The study, published in the Journal of Hazardous Material Advances, suggests the recycling plant discharged up to 2,933 metric tonnes of microplastics a year before the filtration system was introduced, and up to 1,366 metric tonnes afterwards.
“More than 90% of the particles we found were under 10 microns and 80% were under 5 microns,” said Brown. “These are digestible by so many different organisms and found to be ingested by humans.”